History of a Wandering Yankee: Journey to the Santa Cruz Mountains

Continuing their leisurely trip up to Alaska, Frank and Nell take a day-trip up to the Santa Cruz Mountains with some new friends from San Francisco. In his usual fashion, Frank takes time to describe the huge trees and mountains in detailĀ for his New York cousins. Also in this section is a story about Mark Twain visiting similar mountains in Switzerland and finding a clever way to experience mountain climbing without all the bother of actually climbing. Twain would have been well known to the Felters’ New York relatives- he lived nearby in Elmira NY for many years.

Shortly after our Chinese affair we joined a party of excursionists and took a ride Southwest into the Santa Cruz Mountains, passing through the beautiful towns of Santa Clara, and San Jose, from which latter place one can take the stage for Mount Hamilton and Lick Observatory, where the 36 inch telescope, the second or third largest in the world is mounted, over 4200 feet above the sea.

We did not take this side trip but kept on until we reached a magnificent forest grove and picnic ground, among the redwood trees.

Sequioa
Visitors beneath the General Grant Tree in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, 1900. National Park Service.

These are a smaller species of the “Sequoia Grande,” the noted big trees of California, some of which reach a height of 400 feet, and a diameter of 30 feet. The largest tree known, in the Santa Cruz Mountains is 21 feet through and 300 feet high, but we did not go far enough to see it. Sometime we intend to visit the genuine “big trees” and if possible

Mark Twain
Twain writing at his Elmira home, Quarry Farm, in 1880. Bancroft Library.

to climb one or two of them. If we cannot do it any other way we will follow the example of Mark Twain when he was traveling in Switzerland. He wished very much to say that he had climbed a certain icy crag, which was not only very high and difficult to ascent, but was extremely dangerous as well. While debating with his traveling companion, his courier, whether to climb or not to climb, they are accosted by a man with a large telescope, mounted, and aimed at the peak of the mountain. “Here you are sir, have a look through the most powerful glass in Europe, sir:- take you within ten feet of the top sir:- all for two francs” So Mark, who is quick to see his chance, takes a look through the great telescope, and is seemingly carried so close to the icy top that he stretches forth his hand to break off an icicle, and draws it back involuntarily, with his fingers chilled, and the drops of perspiration which had been formed on his face from the heat of his argument with the courier, were frozen solid. Mark then retires a few feet and remarks that ” ’tis the real thing,” warms his chilled veins with a flask of brandy, while the courier takes his trip to the summit, and he is able to get back with a few cold chills down his marrow.

Mark has in the meantime paid the bill and taken a receipt in full for two round trips to the Summit. This he shows as evidence that, accompanied by his courier he reached a point within ten feet of this icy crag.

However let us leave Mark to his own ample resources and finish out lunch in the Santa Cruz forest. We do this, listening to the Band awhile, and then return to our San Francisco home.

Having rested a few days, and attended theatres a few evenings we cross the ferry one morning to Sausalito, and from thence proceed by train to the summit of Mount Tamalpias which is nearly 2600 feet high an almost isolated peak near the Coast, and North of San Francisco. We were about 1-1/2 hours on the cars, changing once, and the better part of the trip was on the crookedest railroad in the world.

 

There are 277 curves in a little more than eight miles of rail. The view is certainly grand from the summit:- looking down below on the city of San Francisco in front, -on the right we gaze miles out to sea, while to the left the Sierras loom up in their grandeur and magnitude, and we feel that we would like to step over the few hundred miles intervening. The atmosphere of California is so clear oftentimes that a distance of 50 or 100 miles seems but a step. Sometimes however, especially along the coast, the fogs come in from the ocean and envelope everything as in a wet sheet.

The summers of Frisco are very cool, and were it not for the high winds of July and August would be delightful. As it is the winders are much more pleasant, and while the Eastern States are covered with snow the people housed up are trying to keep warm, -the residents of San Francisco can pick flowers from their dooryards and eat Strawberries ad libitum.

This post is part of a longer travelogue written by Frank L. Felter of Los Angeles, a distant relative of mine, as he and his wife Nell journeyed up to and around Alaska in 1900. To read the previous part, click here. To read the next part, click here.

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